Bay Area transit ridership down despite subsidies, enticements

Bay Area transit ridership down despite subsidies, enticements

02/09/15 Filed in:

In today’s Chronicle, Matier & Ross write about how regional transit ridership in the Bay Area has been down for decades despite the many billions of dollars MTC has put into construction projects. This begs the question “Why?” For us, the answer is simple: MTC’s unique combination of indifference, incompetence and unwillingess to do the hard work of policy development has created a politicized unaccountable system that works great for contractors, but does little for Bay Area residents and commuters. See related several posts on this site: Bay Area Basics; a case study we did on MTC called Politics Trumps Outcomes; and a comment letter on how to set up a new transportation pot of money so that it is not wasted, as MTC’s resources have been.



Bay Area transit ridership down despite subsidies, enticements

By Matier & Ross

February 6, 2015 Updated: February 7, 2015 6:20pm

Despite tens of billions of dollars in government subsidies and countless incentives, the percentage of Bay Area commuters taking mass transit hasn’t gone up a bit in more than two decades — in fact, it’s declined.

A new study by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission found that while ridership has hit record numbers on BART and Caltrain as the Bay Area’s population has grown, per capita usage of transit has dropped 14 percent since 1991.

In other words, despite all the BART extensions and the new light-rail and bus lines, the slice of the morning commuters jumping into their cars to go work has pretty much stayed the same since before Bill Clinton was president.

“It’s true — it’s as difficult as ever to entice people out of their cars,” said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the transportation commission. “But transit remains important to mobility in the Bay Area.”

According to the study, Bay Area residents took 1.35 million trips on public transit on a typical weekday in 2013. That’s up from the depths of the recession, but it is still significantly lower than peak ridership levels in 2001, when 1.45 million public transit trips were taken every day.

The “whys” behind the decline depend on whom you ask.

Susan Shaheen, with UC Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center, points to everything from rising transit fares to the need to make transfers to people’s desire for “personal space.”

East Bay developer Jim Ghielmetti, who sits on the California Transportation Commission, says some of it is where we’ve built transit lines.

“The routes clearly don’t match where the jobs are going,” Ghielmetti said, pointing to the campus-style business centers on the Peninsula and the East Bay that are not linked to mass transit.

Another issue is the politics of mass-transit spending. Millions have been pointed at bike lanes and the Central Subway to San Francisco’s Chinatown, while heavily populated corridors such as Mission Street and Geary Boulevard remain bus-only afterthoughts.

One thing that everyone seems to agree on is that car use shows no sign of letting up.

“If you look over a long period of time, the cost of owning a car has actually dropped,” Rentschler said. “They are cheaper and more reliable than ever before.”

And that can’t always be said of a bus.

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